With birth rates rising in Fairfax County, the school system expects about 2,900 new students next year, sending the total enrollment over 184,000 for the first time. Dale said that the bulk of the growth is occurring in kindergarten through third grade, with more than 13,000 students in each class, indicating school enrollment could stay elevated for some time.
About 70 percent of the schools budget comes directly from county coffers, which are built with real estate and property tax revenue and have lagged as real estate values fell. The rest comes from state and federal aid and other sources of revenue. Dale is seeking a 5.5 percent increase in county funding for an additional $92 million over this year.
Dale said in an interview Thursday that he does not expect the schools to receive all the money he has requested from the County Board of Supervisors.
“The reality is we probably won’t, because we never have,” Dale said. “Not in this economic climate, I don’t see that happening because I think they are trying to pinch pennies wherever they can.”
School Board Chairman Ilryong Moon (At Large) said he is “praying” that his counterparts on the County Board of Supervisors do not withhold any funding. More than half of the county budget now goes to the school system.
“With enrollment going up every year like it has been going up, if they do not fully fund us then they know they are going to hurt us,” Moon said in an interview Thursday. “We may disagree on certain issues or even the level of funding, but we all agree that we need to keep up the quality of the education here and even improve upon it. Without adequate funding, that simply cannot be done.”
The proposed budget includes $1 million to expand the county’s world languages program to eight new elementary schools and, with a record number of students taking college-level classes, it includes about $900,000 to fund Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests.
Dale’s budget proposes a 1 percent increase to employee salaries through a cost-of-living adjustment as well as small increases to state and local retirement benefits.
Even with salary and retirement increases, the compensation of Fairfax County schools employees will still rank among the lowest in the region. Teacher salaries in Fairfax County start at $45,161, below those in Alexandria, and Arlington, Loudoun and Montgomery counties. The maximum teacher salary in Fairfax County is $96,039, the second-lowest top salary in the area, besting only Prince George’s County.
Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said school system employees have suffered amid the nation’s economic downturn.
“Teachers, as a group of professionals, are underpaid and have really taken a hit over the last couple of years,” Greenburg said. “The teaching workforce doesn’t feel well-respected or -compensated at this point.”
Greenburg, who represents about 4,300 of the county’s 23,000 school system employees, said that county teacher salaries “are falling farther and farther behind competitively.” He said the proposed budget will not include salary step increases based on experience and education.
Nor will the budget address class size. Since 2009, classes have grown at a rate of one student per teacher, infuriating parents and local education activists who cite studies that show small class sizes lead to a better education.
As his tenure comes to a close, Dale pointed out several successes from past years: More than 91 percent of all Fairfax County students graduate from high school within four years, and county students in all subgroups outperform state and national averages on the SAT.
He said his top goal for the budget is to leave the school system “in a good shape for my successor.”